The charity sector needs to prioritise changing its culture and values over focusing on quotas if it wants to improve gender diversity, according to Margaret Rose, founder of the Bath-based leadership consultancy U-Solve.
Speaking at the International Fundraising Congress in the Netherlands yesterday as part of a panel discussion about women in leadership, Rose said she was sceptical about the impact that quotas could have.
She also said she wanted to see "a more inclusive" approach to conversations about gender diversity.
"The issue is multi-layered," she said. "The approach of ‘we need to have this number of women in leadership positions and we need to make this happen’ has not been something I’ve found myself aligned with.
"When we’re focusing more on numbers, it’s about things that we can see as opposed to the values we want in that leadership room and in that leadership context."
Changing the overall culture, Rose said, was key to allowing women to fulfil their potential.
But her fellow panellist Julie Verhaar, senior director of global fundraising and engagement at Amnesty International, argued that quotas had a place in ensuring that an organisation’s leadership team reflected the make-up of its workforce.
She said the secretary general of Amnesty had been urged to promise that women should fill 70 per cent of leadership positions at the charity by 2030, because women made up about 70 per cent of its staff members.
Currently, she said, only two of eight senior directors were female.
But she added: "The board is much more equal, in gender, culture and age, and that’s because we’ve done quite a bit of work on that to get it there. So I do think this is really critical."
During wider discussions, one delegate, Peter Muffet, chief executive of the fundraising consultancy DTV, said the idea that jobs were awarded based on merit alone was unhelpful and needed to be re-examined.
"I want to do away with the term meritocracy because I don’t believe anyone has achieved it," he said.
"I was one of those people who was happy to say ‘I don’t have to worry about equality because I make decisions based on merit’, but now I don’t believe that happens.
"I had to come to terms with that and ensure the policies and programmes we have in place address that."